Ethics of Advertising Wine and Utilitarianism

p000Ethics of Advertising Wine and Utilitarianism

The “ethics of advertising wine” is not actually the subject of this post. The web site, Ethics of Advertising Wine, is. I enjoyed the site, an interesting foray into ethics and advertising, and below is the author’s take on utilitarianism.

Please enjoy!

James Pilant

Ethical Theory-Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is split between the works of two famous philosophers: Bentham and Mill. What you have just seen is a very shallow version of Bentham’s philosophy. What Bentham did was provide a moral theory that was supposed to allow people to calculate whether something is morally good dependent on if it brought more overall pleasure than pain. The tricky part of his theory comes when you have to place a numeric value on seemingly immeasurable things. I mean, how exactly do you put a number on how much pleasure eating an entire pizza pie will bring? (one million pleasures, that is how much.) And how many pleasure points are subtracted from how fat and unhealthy you will feel? (seven…the answer is seven. so I’m heading off to Little Caesars.) Not only is it difficult to put a number on your own personal pleasure an pains, but utilitarianism includes the pleasure and pain of anyone that will be affected by your decision, even those that will be effected in the future. Bentham also was a follower of act utilitarianism. This means that he believed that you should deem the moral value of each individual act and follow those calculations.

Mill, who studied Bentham, was a rule utilitarian. He believed that moral citizens should calculate the ethical value of a set of “rules.” They should then never stray from following those rules. For example, he would calculate the pleasures and pains of every person ever in the case of lying. He would possibly find out that lying causes more pain than pleasure, and would deem that, as a rule, lying is immoral. No longer do you have to do individual calculations on each special scenario to see whether lying is okay in this case and bad in another.

From around the web.

From the web site, European Business Ethics Ireland.


Probably the most widely understood and commonly applied ethical theory is utilitarianism. In an organisational context, utilitarianism basically states that a decision concerning business conduct is proper if and only if that decision produces the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals.

“Good” is usually defined as the net benefits that accrue to those parties affected by the choice. Thus, most utilitarians hold the position that moral choices must be evaluated by calculating the net benefits of each available alternative action.

Importantly, all the stakeholders affected by the decision should be given their just consideration.

As mentioned previously, teleological theories deal with outcomes or end goals. The often-stated declaration that “the end justifies the means” is one classic expression of utilitarian thinking. Several formulations of utilitarianism exist. Their differences harken back to the original writers on the topic, the nineteenth-century philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Stoicism, A Philosophy for Tough Times?

Stoicism, A Philosophy for Tough Times?

Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni writing in the Huffington Post describe why Stoicism is still relevant today. I selected a passage from their first reason that the philosophy was designed for tough times. I’ve read Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, so I’m familiar with Stoicism but I don’t believe endurance is enough but otherwise I admire stoicism and find its practitioners admirable.

James Pilant

Roman Emperor and Stoicism

Five Reasons Why Stoicism Matters Today

Stoicism was born in a world falling apart. Invented in Athens just a few decades after Alexander the Great’s conquests and premature death upended the Greek world, Stoicism took off because it offered security and peace in a time of warfare and crisis. The Stoic creed didn’t promise material security or a peace in the afterlife; but it did promise an unshakable happiness in this life. 

Stoicism tells us that no happiness can be secure if it’s rooted in changeable, destructible things. Our bank accounts can grow or shrink, our careers can prosper or falter, even our loved ones can be taken from us. There is only one place the world can’t touch: our inner selves, our choice at every moment to be brave, to be reasonable, to be good.

The world might take everything from us; Stoicism tells us that we all have a fortress on the inside. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who was born a slave and crippled at a young age, wrote: “Where is the good? In the will…If anyone is unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone.”

While it’s natural to cry out at pain, the Stoic works to stay indifferent to everything that happens on the outside, to stay equally happy in times of triumph and disaster. It’s a demanding way of life, but the reward it offers is freedom from passion — freedom from the emotions that so often seem to control us, when we should control them. A real Stoic isn’t unfeeling. But he or she does have a mastery of emotions, because Stoicism recognizes that fear or greed or grief only enter our minds when we willingly let them in.

A teaching like that seems designed for a world on edge, whether it’s the chaotic world of ancient Greece, or a modern financial crisis. But then, Epictetus would say that — as long as we try to place our happiness in perishable things — our worlds are always on edge.

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An Insight on Happiness from the Book, 59 Seconds.

59 Seconds, Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman is a book I have enjoyed. Below is a quotation from the book. I think you should consider buying it. I was going to put up an image of the cover but Amazon has a giant copyright notice on the thing and I learned from a miserable experience with CBS news that positive comments and a recommendation don’t matter a damn.

Dunn and her colleagues have conducted several studies on the relationship between income, spending, and happiness. In one national survey , participants were asked to rate their happiness, state their income, and provide a detailed break-down of the amount spent on gifts for themselves, gifts for others, and donations to charity. In another study Dunn measured the happiness and spending patterns of employees before and after they each received a profit-sharing bonus of between $3,000 and $8,000. Time and again, the same pattern emerged. Those who spent a higher percentage of their income on others were far happier than those who spent it on themselves.

This is a fascinating passage. Apparently Greed is not the only important human value. It would seem that contrary to Ayn Rand, altruism is not evil but a useful tool in the full and happy life. It’s amazing what you can learn from research.

James Pilant

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Marcus Aurelius From The Virtual University (MICHAEL SUGRUE)

The 1% and the climb to the top.
Marcus Aurelius, emperor over the last generat...
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This is a lecture, the first of a series about Marcus Aurelius. I’ve read the Meditations a couple of times and I’ve read Epictetus as well. However, a good teacher can put all this in context and that is what is happening here. Unlike many You-Tube teaching videos, the sound is good and the teacher is easy to give your undivided attention to. I enjoyed the lecture. I believe there are three more. Once you are watching this one, the follow ups will be listed on the right hand side of the screen.

I personally find this philosophy compelling but I’m older and more skeptical. So, let’s see where this material takes us.

James Pilant

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Sterling Hayden On “Career”

These wonderful paragraphs are by Sterling Hayden, a Hollywood actor. He was a man of many talents and I’ll think you’ll like the writing. This is from the Wikipedia entry to which I am indebted. JP

The sun beats down and you pace, you pace and you pace. Your mind flies free and you see yourself as an actor, condemned to a treadmill wherein men and women conspire to breathe life into a screenplay that allegedly depicts life as it was in the old wild West. You see yourself coming awake any one of a thousand mornings between the spring of 1954, and that of 1958 ‑ alone in a double bed in a big white house deep in suburban Sherman Oaks, not far from Hollywood.

“The windows are open wide, and beyond these is the backyard swimming pool inert and green, within a picket fence. You turn and gaze at a pair of desks not far from the double bed. This is your private office, the place that shelters your fondest hopes: these desks so neat, patiently waiting for the day that never comes, the day you’ll sit down at last and begin to write.

“Why did you never write? Why, instead, did you grovel along, through the endless months and years, as a motion‑picture actor? What held you to it, to something you so vehemently professed to despise? Could it be that you secretly liked it—that the big dough and the big house and the high life meant more than the aura you spun for those around you to see?

“‘Hayden’s wild,’ they said. ‘He’s kind of nuts‑but you’ve got to hand it to him. He doesn’t give a damn about the loot or the stardom or things like that—something to do with his seafaring, or maybe what he went through in the war . . .'”[2]:151

I believe we all tussle with the issue of whether to write or not to write. I have erred on the side of writing. There may be those of you who think it would have been better if I had remained silent. But here I am. I feel very much like he did some of the time. I think many of you do too.

James Pilant

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Can We Engineer Students to Where They Learn Without Teachers?

I was reading Norman J. LaFave’s Web site, Alterworld: Norman LaFave’s Science Fiction Musings on Writing, Science, Technology, Education, Philosophy, Politics and Policy. 

His current article, The Future of Learning and Education…  tells of his thoughts on the future of education. He’s pretty imaginative, but I don’t think he’s wrong. I have been telling my Criminal Justice students that our ability to modify human genetics, alter human behavior with chemicals and change the structure of our bodies with implants is going to radically change the field. I think they only half believe me but the changes are coming anyway.

I am particularly interested in the experiments with brain chemicals that appear that appear to raise intelligence. The average intelligence in prison measured by IQ is about 70. That’s not much. What if we could raise that intelligence to that of an average citizen? Studies show that criminals suffer from poor judgment. One set of studies show that the process they use to make judgments is only partial the pattern used by law abiding citizens. Could we radically reduce crime by increasing inmate intelligence? We are likely to able to use this kind of technique not in some science fiction future, but probably in five or six years. It will be the first wave in new treatments for criminality not by prison but by altering the way their brains work.

The future may also hold direct transference of data from computers to the human brain. That might make much of college teaching obsolete. I can tell you I’m not looking forward to this, I’m a teacher and I enjoy it. However, I suspect the changes may be just far enough ahead for me to close out my teaching career with some dignity.

Both chemical treatment to raise offender IQ’s and direct transfer of information both present moral problems. However boosting intelligence in prison populations is hard to criticize ethically unless you can make a good case that an increased intelligence is a detriment some way. I think it is more akin to providing exercise facilities to build muscles than a punishment.

Direct transfer of information is going to be much more of an ethical dilemma. Will the machine evade the judgment centers of the forebrain and deliver the information without any moral screening? Will humans simply become skill bundles with only a limited humanity? What exactly are we putting in and how does it affect the whole system? As long as it is theory and their are no facts to work with, questions over what is right or wrong become more numerous the more you think about it.

I think raising intelligence by chemical means will be common in the next thirty years. I do not forsee direct knowledge transfer until minimally fifty or sixty years. But technology is not as predictable as when I was a child in the sixties, so we will have to see.

James Pilant

English: Computer tomography of human brain, f...
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